A DINING EXPERIENCE REVIEW
Type: Upscale Winery, Modern Aust Food: 7/10 Service: 7/10 Value for money: 7/10
- Most of the fruit and vegetables used in the restaurant’s dishes are from their very own organic produce garden, which explains the strictly seasonal menu
- Unused produce are turned into pantry items like preserves and cooking ingredients that Montalto sells at their shop and online store to reduce food wastage
I love Red Hill. Just a short drive away from the rugged beaches of the Mornington Peninsula and you’re suddenly in hilly wine country where the earth is literally rich, deep red in colour. The scenery is beautiful and tranquil, and there are countless long winding country roads you can get lost down. For some reason – when I am visiting – it is always quite cool. Even in the summer. I scroll through candid photographs from several different visits across several years and I always seem to be in heavy knitwear.
I could just be weak when it comes to a little bit of a breeze.
For Christmas I had been given a voucher to use on the Montalto picnic lunch, which sounded quite spectacular. Upon arrival, you would receive a picnic hamper stocked with delicious goodies such as baguettes, salami selection, smoked ocean trout, roast chicken, preserved lemons, local cheeses, chocolate tarts – the works. My mouth is salivating as I note this down. They would take you to a private picnic spot somewhere in their sprawling grounds, and they leave you be with your hamper full of food until 4pm. Dream life. These picnics are available from October to April each season.
Despite receiving the voucher in December and calling up to book a picnic site in January, they were fully booked for weekends months in advance. If we wanted to wait, we would have to book for the next season which was October, and I found that quite ridiculous. The team were nice enough to arrange a booking at the restaurant instead for a weekend of our choice, and would transfer the costs across as a restaurant voucher instead. Given that I had always wanted to try the restaurant anyway, this was a pretty sweet deal. No persuasion needed to get me to agree to a free meal 😛
“Madam, would you like a complimentary plate of duck confit?”
“No no, I would rather fork out $30 from my own pocket thank you.”
The weather between March to April was bleak most weekends, so we were lucky in the end to be going to the restaurant rather than a picnic. Josh and I arrived for a late Sunday lunch after doing the rounds of visiting his family members down at Mount Martha, greeted by moody storm clouds and an icy wind. It wasn’t a bad thing. I love the extreme weather down the peninsula because it adds to the the scenery. As we rolled up the the long driveway towards the estate, greeted by the beautiful vista, we both looked at each other and nodded our heads as if to say:
“Good choice babe.”
Unspoken moments to express our admiration of the vineyard’s warm tones that looked spectacular in contrast to the dark skies. Peppering the grounds, we spotted various sculptures of artwork. Now …I don’t quite understand modern art, and I’m glad Josh doesn’t either because I wouldn’t know what to do if I had to pretend to understand it. Call me old fashioned but I’m more inclined to be impressed by the technique in an artist’s brush strokes – not how an abstract red shape makes me feel.
We walked into a rustic building with a heavy iron door, high ceilings, mismatched wooden and steel beams, and gaping floor length windows looking out over a deck and the vineyard. In contrast to the rustic modern architecture, the restaurant’s interior consisted of old classic french bistro chairs, double clothed tables, and old school British table settings. Think Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman, struggling to choose which fork to use for her salad (the chilled one of course). The menu was concise and modern.
On weekends, Montalto only offers a 3 course a la carte, or 5 course tasting menu.We opted for 3 courses with additional potatoes and roast vegetable sides for our mains – but regretted it in the end as we had to roll ourselves out of the restaurant.
“AUGUSTUS. SAVE SOME FOR LATER!!!”
This was partially due to the unlimited amount of fresh, house made olive sourdough we were given between meals – served with the estate olive oil. Who doesn’t love freshly baked olive bread?
My eyes lit up upon hearing our waitress explain that the majority of the ingredients were sourced right from their garden, or from neighbouring farms. I love that! Furthermore their produce garden is organic, and the menu changes seasonally to showcase the fruits and vegetables grown. The produce they are unable to use up on the restaurant dishes are then turned into pantry items that can be bought from their estate shop to reduce food wastage.
I enjoyed the duck with the sweet and succulent plums, a stone fruit sourced from their produce garden. The duck was tender and rich, with crispy golden skin and drenched in it’s rich cooking jus. Paired the Montalto Pinot Noir, I had to sit in silence for a while, so as to avoid spoiling the moment with chit chat. Why communicate with your partner when you can eat duck cooked in it’s own fat?
Dessert was not needed, but the set three course menu offered some delicious options. We decided on one traditional plate of sweets, and one cheese platter. The smoked fig ice cream served with the “Eaton Mess” was rich and packed a flavour punch, marrying well with the tartness of the fresh berries and the sweetness of the stone fruit and the meringue. The cheese platter was overkill. We were stuffed and quite drunk by the end of the meal. My eyes have always been bigger than my stomach…and liver for that matter.
That time we visited, I felt that the ambiance of the restaurant was extremely relaxed. The staff were casual and friendly, though extremely knowledgeable. Diners were country chic – there were no expectations to dress up in your sunday best at Montalto. I was grateful for this, given the icy chill that had settled upon Red Hill that day. Josh and I happily tucked away into our fine meals rugged up in chunky knitwear and winter boots.
I’ve recommended Montalto many times since our visit, and I’m still looking forward to trying their picnic experience one day. I admire their dedication to using fresh local produce and their creativity in developing pantry ingredients they can sell to reduce food wastage. If you are unable to get a table at the restaurant or reserve a picnic spot, the estate also boasts a casual cafe that specialises in wood-fired pizzas.
Happy feasting, and do mind your table manners.